Embracing technology to improve medication adherence

We have reached a day and age in which technology inevitably plays a central role in our lives

We’ve seen huge developments in eHealth in recent years, and we need to ask ourselves in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry if what we’re currently doing is having the desired effect.

The number of health apps in online stores has more than doubled in recent years to more than 100,000, and leading pharmaceutical companies developed 63% more apps in 2014 compared with 2013.1

However, it seems that only a few are being used extensively. This isn’t awfully reassuring considering that the number of smartphone users worldwide is set to reach 2.32 billion this year.2

So where, and why, is pharma going wrong? At Merck, we are highly confident that the future of healthcare lies in digital technology, and we are ensuring that what we’re doing is having the desired effect we seek.

The digital health sessions at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference highlighted, and rightly so, that information not being put into the hands of the patient is one of the biggest issues that the healthcare industry faces today.

Historically, healthcare knowledge has been concentrated and only available to a few groups of people; but, now, we are able to use technology to start democratising this knowledge. The patient is the least-trained participant in the healthcare ecosystem and, to improve issues such as patient adherence, this needs to change.

The importance of developing initiatives (such as patient-centric devices and apps) to educate, inform and thus empower patients to engage with and self-manage their condition, to improve medication adherence, is becoming increasingly evident.

The problem of poor patient adherence continues to be a real obstacle to attaining positive patient health outcomes. In the European Union (EU) alone, it has been estimated that there are nearly 200,000 deaths a year because of missed doses and non-adherence to prescribed medication schedules, with non-adherence estimated to cost EU governments €125 billion annually.3

In a report on adherence to long-term therapies, the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that “increasing the effectiveness of adherence interventions may have a far greater impact on the health of the population than any improvement in specific medical treatments.”4 This tells us that certain interventions have the potential to be just as effective as the drug itself.

To improve patient adherence to treatment, we need to turn our focus to medication-taking behaviour, which we believe requires a technological, more patient-centred, collaborative multi-stakeholder approach. We as manufacturers need to start thinking like patients to help patients.

At Merck, our approach is to drive innovation in services, devices and drugs for growth hormone deficiency (GHD) through digital technology and processes.

We strongly believe that the incorporation of eHealth into daily healthcare practice enables us to truly address a patient’s needs, by facilitating the management of chronic illnesses such as GHD and making it more convenient for all those involved in the treatment process.

The need to adopt patient-centric technological innovations to help us overcome healthcare challenges such as medication adherence seems obvious … so what are we all waiting for? The technology is available and ready for us to use; we just need to implement it and ensure it remains patient-orientated.

All key healthcare stakeholders need to understand the enormous potential these types of interventions hold and be willing to start embracing eHealth as an integral part of healthcare practice.


1. Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, Connected health: How Digital Technology is Transforming Health and Social Care: www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/life-sciences-health-care/deloitte-uk-connected-health.pdf (2016).

2. Statista, Number of Smartphone Users Worldwide from 2014 to 2020 (in Billions): www.statista.com/statistics/330695/number-of-smartphone-users-worldwide (2017).

3. Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union, Targeting Adherence: www.pgeu.eu/en/policy/5-adherence.html (May 2008).

4. World Health Organization (WHO), Adherence to Long-Term Therapies: Evidence for Action: www.who.int/chp/knowledge/publications/adherence_full_report.pdf?ua=1 (2003).